Playing The Long Game: Outdoor Photography With Telezooms

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review

We compare a number of filters to see if it is worth paying more, or whether you can save money by buying cheap on eBay.

| Hoya HD UV in Filters

Handling and Features

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: HOYA PRO1 Digital Circular PL Filter (4)

Purchasing a filter for your camera is a great way to add features, enable more creative photography, or improve the look of your images, and buying from somewhere like eBay may seem like a great idea due to the potential to save money, so we thought we'd give it a try and see how cheap and generic or unbranded filters compare to the more expensive premium filters.


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Filter Comparison Handling and Features

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: Variable Density 3-400

For nearly all of the filters bought from eBay, we selected UK sellers so that delivery was going to be quicker, and in the hope that there would be no problems.

We purchased a Close-Up filter, and were later refunded as the eBay seller said the item was no longer in stock. 

In the second attempt to buy a Close-Up filter, we selected a seller based in China, as this was the cheapest option available. The delivery estimate was one month (!) which is noticeably longer than buying from a UK supplier. After a month the filter did not arrive, and after contacting the seller, we were refunded, so whilst no money was lost, there was a month wasted, and then it was necessary to re-order another filter.

For the third attempt to buy a Close-Up filter, we selected a second hand filter from an eBay seller, which arrived roughly a week later. However, on opening the package, the wrong filter had been supplied. This meant more time was lost sending the wrong filter back, and waiting for a replacement from the seller, which then took roughly a week to arrive. 

The filters used, along with the price paid can be seen here: 

 Retail Filters    Generic Filters  
  • HOYA HD UV Filter
  • HOYA Close-Up +3 Filter
  • HOYA PROND4 (2-stop) ND Filter
  • HOYA Variable Density 3-400 Filter
  • Kenko PL Fader ND3-ND400 Filter


  • "Filter Filter" UV Filter
  • "Filter Filter" Circular Polarising Filter
  • Carenar Close-Up +3 Filter
  • GREEN.L ND4 Filter
  • (No Name) ND Variable ND2-ND400



Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: REVO CIR-PL

The packaging of generic filters can vary greatly, and most come in similar cases to Hoya filters. The level of protection provided with the filter so that it doesn't get damaged in transit can be quite poor. The labelling and information provided can be poor, some give no information on what the filter does, or what its best uses are. One even described the effects of a Circular Polarising filter, when the filter in the box was an ND filter! Others suffer from poor translation to English.

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: Generic Filters Green L Variable
Above: Generic Filters (UV Filters), Green L (ND4), Unbranded ND Variable Filter

On the other end of the scale, with the Kenko PL Fader ND3 - ND400 you get detailed information on what the variable filter is used for, along with a large round case for the filter that has padding inside, as well as a screw to make turning the filter easy.

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: Kenko Pl Fader Rear
Kenko PL Variable Fader ND3 - ND400


UV (Ultra-Violet Light) Filters

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: HOYA HD UV
HOYA HD UV, and Generic UV Filter

Often the UV filter is the first filter purchase to protect the lens, and most filters use standard glass which will easily break, however the Hoya HD UV filter uses toughened glass to provide additional protection for your lens. It is also designed to be water, grease and dirt repellent. 

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: Hoya HD Vs Cheap Filter Water

Hoya HD Vs Cheap UV Filter - Water drops bubble up and are repelled from the HOYA HD filter, whereas the cheap UV filter does not repel water.

Further Reading: UV / IR / Clear Filters Explained.


Circular Polarising (CPL) Filters

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: HOYA REVO CIR PL

Cirucular polarising filters, often abbreviated to CPL (or CIR-PL) are some of the most useful filters if you want to shoot deep blue skies, reduce reflections and glare, enhance colour, shoot through water and glass, and reduce haze.

The "CPL" 58mm circular polarising filter is quite stiff and gritty to turn, and in comparison the HOYA CIR-PL feels much better to use and adjust. 

Further Reading: Tips on using Polarising Filters.


Close-Up +3 Filters

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: Hoya Closeup Plus 3
Hoya Closeup +3, Carenar CU+3

A close-up filter is a quick and often affordable way to increase the macro capability of your lens, without the need of a dedicated macro lens, however the use of cheaper close-up filters can result in a degradation of image quality, particularly towards the edges of the image. With the HOYA Close-up filter it is possible to stack close-up filters to get even closer to the subject, however with the Carenar filter it was not possible to screw anything on to the front of the filter as the lens protrudes beyond the filter ring. 

Further Reading: our guide on how to use close-up filters.


ND (Neutral Density) Filter

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: HOYA PROND4 GreenL ND4
HOYA PROND4, GreenL ND4 Filters

If you want to use bright apertures in sunny conditions, for background blur, then often it can be too bright for the camera to shoot, and an ND filter will reduce the amount of light entering the lens. The use of a cheap ND filter or the wrong ND filter can result in a degradation of image quality, but also a change in colour temperature, and as you can see in the photo above, the Green.L ND4 filter has a magenta colour cast on the filter, which may result in altered colour in photos.

Further Reading: Our Guide to different types of ND filter.


Variable ND (Neutral Density) Filter

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: Kenko Pl Fader Nd3 Nd400 Min
Kenko PL Fader ND3-ND400 

The Variable Density filter / Variable ND filter, or PL Fader is designed to let you adjust the the amount of light entering the camera's lens, without the need to bring a number of different ND filters with you and stack them. This can be particularly useful if you want to shoot with a wide-open aperture for greater subject separation and background blur, but don't know if the lighting conditions will stay the same. 

With some ND filters, such as the Kenko PL Fader Variable ND3-ND400 you get a screw in knob that make it easier to adjust the filter.

Cheap Filters Vs Premium Filters Comparison Review: HOYA Variable Kenko PL Fader
HOYA Variable Density, Kenko PL Fader, and Generic ND Vario 2-400

The Hoya HD variable ND filter does not increase the filter thread size, which means you can use your normal lens cap on it, whereas the generic and Kenko PL Fader both increase the filter ring size. The generic ND Vario 2-400mm 58mm variable ND filter has a gritty feel to it when you turn the inner ring, and the MIN / MAX markings don't correctly line up with the arrow.

Further Reading: Our Guide to different types of ND filter.


Filter Comparison Performance

The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the equipment. Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.


UV Filter Results

HOYA HD UV Other sample images

The HOYA HD UV filter came out top in our recent test of a number of different UV filters, and offers toughened glass to provide additional protection for your lens. The HOYA HD UV filter gives very little additional flare even when shooting with the sun into the frame, with no loss of contrast. In comparison the cheap UV filter adds noticeable flare.


Circular Polarising Filter Results

HOYA REVO CIR-PL Other sample images

The HOYA Revo Circular Polarising filter adds very little additional flare to the image. In comparison, the cheap CIR-PL filter gives poor results with noticeably flare around the sun, and there is a slight yellow colour cast as well. Even after ensuring the filter is clean there is still excessive flare around the sun.

We've looked at the HOYA PRO1 Digital CIR-PL here, and the HOYA REVO CIR-PL here.


Close-Up Filter Results

HOYA Close-Up +3 Sample Photos

The close-up filters perform reasonably well considering both are quite affordable, and the effect of being able to get closer to the subject has a pleasing effect on the background blur (aka "Bokeh"). In comparison to the HOYA Close-up filter, the second hand Carenar close-up filter has a very smooth finish making it difficult to screw on and off the front of the lens. 

We also tested the HOYA PRO1 Close-up 3 filter previously.


ND (Neutral Density) Filter Results

HOYA PROND 4 Filter Sample Photos

Both filters cause some flare to be visible in the image, with the HOYA PROND4 having the edge here in adding less flare than the cheap ND filter. The HOYA PROND4 is designed to be a truly neutral density filter with no effect on the colour captured by the camera, and here we can see that there is no colour cast. In comparison, there is a strong magenta colour cast with the "Green L" ND filter, as well as the filter not blocking as much light as the HOYA PROND 4 filter. If you plan on using more than one ND filter at a time, then the ability for the filter to record a neutral image without any colour cast will be particularly important.

Using a low quality ND filter can be the difference between getting a usable image, or one you have to convert to black and white, as we found in our HOYA PROND 1000 10 stop filter review, when comparing the filter to filters from other manufacturers. We also recently tested the Cokin Nuances ND1024 10 stop filter.


Variable ND Filter Results

Kenko PL Variable Fader ND3 - ND400 Sample Photos

With two additional pieces of glass in front of your lens, the variable ND filter is the most likely to create problems with ghosting, flare and vignetting. The cross pattern when the filter is turned down to maximum is something that is standard with all variable ND filters.

The flare visible in the Kenko and Hoya filters is quite uniform and similar, whereas the generic filter has more randomly spaced ghosting with double the flare visible even when shooting with the least amount of light being blocked. The cheaper variable ND also makes the image darker towards the corners, and a better result is achieved using the Kenko and Hoya filters. 

The flare and ghosting may be a desirable effect for creative film making or other creative photography, however for the most part it would be best to avoid shooting into the sun with variable ND filters. 


Filter Comparison Verdict

As we've found in our comparison, buying cheaper filters from eBay can be both time consuming due to delays in delivery or problems with the wrong item being sent, but also a false economy, as you can end up with images that suffer from ghosting, flare, and colour casts in some cases. This will result in you very quickly wishing you hadn't purchased these "bargain" priced filters in the first place. 

If you are in the market for a filter, then making sure you get the best filter you can afford will result in the best image quality possible. Adding a cheap filter will degrade image quality, and in some cases noticeably, with ghosting, flare and colour casts and a loss of contrast being an issue. Buying from a reputable retailer rather than trying to find a cheap "bargain" on eBay can also help avoid problems, as well as help avoid accidentally buying a fake filter.

Buying a HOYA HD filter such as the HOYA HD UV or HOYA HD Protector can also give additional benefits in protecting your camera equipment thanks to toughened glass. 

Read more filter reviews, or check out some of our hints, tips, and techniques on how to use filters.

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indysteve1949 Avatar
indysteve1949 10 104 United States
22 Aug 2015 2:11PM
nice review but there are so many cheaper brands it's hard to draw a real conclusion other than Hoya is better than a particular brand of cheap filters
bschaldon Avatar
26 Aug 2015 11:24PM
Choosing only to shoot pictures with the sun in direct view seems a perverse choice, hardly typical of normal photography. This invalidates the whole test, but perhaps you otherwise found little to differentiate them.
joshwa Avatar
joshwa Plus
13 927 1 United Kingdom
27 Aug 2015 9:28AM
Hi bschaldon,

The shots show the worst case scenario, where the filter is most likely to generate flare. It also shows any colour shift.

It's also worth noting that this isn't the only difference, as there are packaging, delivery, build quality and handling differences as described in the review.

Colly1 Avatar
Colly1 5
27 Mar 2019 1:52PM
There’s no such thing as a close-up filter! It is not a filter, it doesn’t filter anything. It is a close-up lens!

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